BUBBLES IN THE BAPTISTRY
Church can be the funniest place on the planet. Too many people only see it in terms of the most holy and reverent, but if I’m actually made in God’s image then He must have a sense of humor because I certainly do.
Perhaps no ritual or rite in the church is fraught with more opportunity for disaster than a baptism service. I mean, think about it. You’ve got people in white see-through cotton robes, in water. You’ve got a tank of water and electrical cords for microphones and these days you have video cameras placed strategically in order to the the full impact of the visual image to be displayed on large screens in the front of the sanctuary. An entire reality show could be produced about baptism services.
The first time I tried to baptize people I was a rookie pastor in a nice church in Del City, Oklahoma. The church had a nice baptistery and I filled it with water mid week and turned on the heater. As the week progressed I realized that the “big boys” wore wading boots when they baptized someone. I didn’t have such boots. I was lucky to have shoes in those days. However, I knew that the Pastor of the big church up in Bethany had such boots. I asked to borrow them. Given approval I decided to run up after church Sunday morning and pick them up (I was doing the baptizing on Sunday night). Before making the 20 mile trip I looked once again at the water in the tank and realized that it had dropped about six inches in depth. I turned on the faucet to top it off and then did a few other things around the church before heading up to get the boots.
I was 20 miles away with the “had to have” boots in my car when I remembered that I had not shut off the water. Terror gripped my young heart as I stepped on the gas and broke every known land speed record getting back to my church. I could just see water running over the edge of the tank in a tidal wave down the center aisle. I prayed....oh how I prayed.
When I arrived I couldn’t get the key in the lock fast enough. What a relief when I walked in and found no wet carpet, no flood. Water was still running into the tank and it was indeed full, but no tragedy.
Oh, and one more thing. Those high waders I was wearing? When I bent over to baptize the first candidate.....I stooped to low and they filled with water
When pastoring in Independence, Kansas our old church didn’t have a baptistery. As a result I would borrow my Baptist buddy’s church for a Sunday afternoon service.
When you don’t have your own “tank” it becomes easy to put off having the number of baptismal services you might ordinarily have. Apparently Nazarenes hadn’t had such a service in quite a while for when I announced that we were going to be baptizing believers I had a great crop of converts lining up for the opportunity.
It was a precious time of worship until one particular lady stepped into the water with me. She was older...no, she was old. She moved slow and she was proud. She didn’t want to get her hair wet and be seen in such a humbling condition in front of her church friends. Her answer to that problem was to wear a full wig. She wore a wig. Hear me. She WORE A WIG. And that wasn’t all. She had a shower cap over the wig. Lord, what are people thinking. There is no limit to what we’ll do to save our pride.
I held out my hand to help her as she descended the stairs into the water. I had her stand in front of me, put her hand over her nose and mouth and I pronounced, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” I held her firmly and placed her under the water. As I brought her up the the shower cap and the wig had moved. Now she had a knot of plastic and hair on top of her head. There it sat, nestled like a bun balanced precariously held in place by the elastic around the bottom of the shower cap. A wad of good intentions sarcastically laughing at her efforts to remain dignified. A cute little pink Bon Bon shining brightly while a crowd of amused witnesses prayed it wouldn’t fall off. The amazing thing is that she managed to exit the baptistery with it still mounted to her cranium.
While in Independence we relocated the church and built a new facility on 37 acres of property. You can bet that we had our own baptistry installed. And the first time we decided to use it we filled the thing with water and turned on the in-line heating element. But when we arrived early for the evening service the water was still cold and I found John Van Dyne up on the roof of the church with long wires looking for a way to connect his stock tank heater into the line that powered the air conditioners. We all thanked God that before he could get that done, the water “miraculously” got warm.
In Denver I emphasized baptism during one particular season and encouraged...no, I browbeat people into submission to be baptized. On the Sunday night when the event was to occur even I was surprised by the number of people who arrived wanting to participate in the sacred ritual. We passed out robes until they were gone and realized that some were going to have to be used twice.
I donned my waders and stepped into the water. It was warm and the pressure of the water caused the boots to hug my legs tightly and the black robe hid the boots from the folks watching from the audience.
As people started stepping into the baptistery I realized that this was going to take a while. It did!! Two hours later the 95th person stepped out of the tank and I prayed a quick prayer of benediction and dismissed the crowd. It was only then that I looked at the water I was standing in. Can you imagine? 95 people. People wearing hairspray and makeup and deodorant? Some may not have bathed in a while?
To say there was a ring around the tub would be an understatement. It was grimy, almost thick, with gunk. I was so glad I was wearing waders and sleeves.
I guess it was the detergent residue in the baptismal robes and thrashing around in that tub that created the suds. But by the time we were finished it looked like I was standing in a bubble bath
What I did was wrong. To subject people to that kind of toxic waste was a sin for which I’m still asking God for forgiveness.